Affiliate Marketing

US Publishers Should Pursue Interactive Sports Betting to Boost Growth –

Today’s guest columnist is Harry von Behr, managing director and U.S. CEO, Spotlight Sports Group.

The needs of the sports bettor are developing faster by the day, and it’s time for news publishers across North America to deliver an end-to-end sports betting proposition that can accelerate their revenues from existing and potential audiences.

Sports betting in North American media is maturing much faster than it did in countries like the United Kingdom in the early 2000s. The technology available to engage users is light years ahead, as is the customer expectation. No longer is a written preview of a baseball game enough to cut through. Users want interactive experiences, live data and much more to help them to place better bets. And guess what? They don’t want to pay for that.

The baseline customer expectation level is high and will get higher—for both sportsbooks and the publishers who can send new customers to those sportsbooks. The current new-state-law whack-a-mole will settle over time, and the marketplace will evolve to think about retention as well as acquisition. Brand and product really matter for sportsbooks, but so does the ability to tap into qualified audiences that are deepening their engagement through consumption of free actionable insights on other platforms.

Traditional and specialist sports publishers are building qualified audiences who regularly utilize exclusive content, live data and interactive tools to deepen their engagement in sports events. And the events they don’t know much about are just as important as the Super Bowl. Bettors will habitually do this at a destination where they already spend time (like a news publisher) or on dedicated sports betting platforms like Action on our own product, Pickswise.

Many more publishers have an opportunity to execute across the spectrum of technology, licensing, content, conversion and affiliate operations. This presents one of the biggest opportunities for the media sector for many years. As readers will know, sport never stops, and being able to execute the myriad of always-on or event-led audience activation campaigns takes some real thinking.

Further evidence of the size of the opportunity was reported by the group when it floated on the New York Stock Exchange in July 2021. U.S. sportsbooks spend approximately 30% of their marketing budgets on affiliate marketing, and the online casino and sports betting affiliate industry is forecast to be worth $4 billion annually at maturity. That is before you consider the launch of sports betting in Canada this April.

In 2009, Racing Post (a Spotlight Sports Group brand), redefined its proposition from being a traditional digital publisher to becoming an acquisition and retention super-affiliate. The Racing Post app was turned into a truly frictionless experience. The transformation allowed customers to consume data, read content, get free picks and place bets through their existing sportsbook accounts without leaving the platform, creating a pioneering user experience.

Extremely popular with customers, the revamped proposition allowed Racing Post to grow its affiliate revenue significantly over the following years.

The role and impact of independent actionable betting insights in driving incremental activity should not be underestimated. One of our North American brands, Pickswise, found a number of data points to back this up in its mid-2021 annual sports betting survey:

  • 80% of bettors trust analysis from outlets that are not directly affiliated with a sportsbook
  • 81% of bettors are “extremely interested” or “very interested” in using independent content to inform their betting decisions
  • 97% of all bettors surveyed regularly make use of editorial and tools when researching their bets

In the U.S. at present, sports betting affiliates—whether traditional publishers or sports betting specialists—are mainly working to a cost per acquisition (CPA) model. This means a fixed price is paid by operators per depositing user acquired. In the current race for new users, sportsbooks are pricing to an expected lifetime value to deliver a CPA bounty for their partners.

Every new customer will sit on a value curve for the operator, making the acquisition of that user cheaper or more expensive than they thought—and they only know retrospectively. Based on our experience in more mature markets, the focus will shift to reducing player churn and increasing lifetime value by implementing retention strategies through improved user experience through integrated content, streaming and loyalty offers.

Therefore, the question becomes how to best reward affiliates who can send the right type of customers. We believe it is a revenue-share model that is conditional on the value of those users, rather than an upfront payment which is effectively the wrong number for both sides. This also allows the smarter affiliates to continue to grow their authority as they source and send better customers to sportsbooks.

The North American market is going to mature fast. Operators and publishers have learned a lot in the U.S. since 2018, and some of those lessons will transfer to the Canadian market, too. More publishers are beginning to understand what goes into being a leading sports betting affiliate. Great content, smart technology and live data, combined with seamless event-led execution and a potential revenue-share model present a generational opportunity. We’re excited about the next few years and look forward to supporting more publishers to diversify and grow their revenues.

Harry von Behr has been with Spotlight Sports Group, which has decades of experience in powering growth and conversion for the world’s biggest publishers including and Advance Local, since 2018.

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